What is a Sexually Transmitted Infection?

These are commonly called STIs or STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). There are a number of different infections, but all are spread via sexual contact, often through body fluids that carry the virus. This can include vaginal intercourse, oral genital sex, or anal genital sex. People of all ages, regions, ethnic backgrounds and economic  levels can get STI. In the United States, 1 in 4 people between 15-55 years of age will contract at least one STI in their lifetime. Two-thirds of these infections occur in teens and young adults under 25.

Infections in half of the cases cause NO SYMPTOMS!!!! That is why it is recommended to screen teens and young adults who engage in these behaviors to be sure they don’t have an infection they are unaware of. The symptoms vary depending on the type of STI but may include sores or blisters around the genitals or in the mouth, unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, pain or burning with urination, pain in abdomen or pelvic, with or without fever and chills as well as vaginal bleeding at unexpected times in the menstrual cycle. There are certainly other causes of these symptoms, but it is often a good idea to be tested if any of these conditions are present. Most of these infections are treated with antibiotics but there are infections that are not curable such as Herpes or HIV/AIDS.

The most effective PREVENTION of STIs is ABSTINENCE-not to have sex.  The term “safe sex” includes ways to minimize the risk of infection but abstinence is the only absolute way to prevent STIs. Condom use or dental dam should be used with oral, genital or anal sex. Water-based lubricants are important to use because oil-based ones will weaken the latex in the condoms and their effectiveness.  Limiting the number of sexual partners, choose partners who have not had many other partners, don’t have sex with someone who has symptoms of an STI, and having your partner tested prior to having sex with them are all ways to minimize the risk of getting an STI. Other prevention strategies are to avoid partners who use IV drugs, get the Hepatitis  B and HPV vaccines.

If you think you have an STI testing can be done in a variety of ways depending on the specific infection. We now have the technology to test for gonorrhea and chlamydia with urine specimens. This is much more acceptable to most teens and young adults. Some require blood tests. You cannot diagnose these conditions yourself. It is important to seek care as soon as possible to minimize the damage to the reproductive system that these infections may cause. It is important to be sure your partner obtains treatment as well prior to resumption of sexual relations to prevent reinfection.

By Suzanne C. Swanson MD, pediatric gynecologist, ThedaCare Physicians-Pediatrics in Appleton.